Our civic education cements that the best of America comes from the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights. According to politicians and history teachers alike, those 200-year-old documents created a great and powerful democracy based on majority rule with minority rights.
This is an American myth that belongs alongside Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed. The Constitution is neither an ethical document nor a conduit of fair democracy, yet we turn to it as a moral compass. The modern worship of this document precludes crucial corrections to its shortcomings. Most toxic is originalism, a legal perspective that strives to interpret the Constitution as its authors originally intended. This perspective has seeped into many arguments regarding the right to bear arms from the left and right and continues to poison all attempts to enact gun control. To admit that the right to bear arms is not a fundamental right and has no place in a modern democracy, we must stop debating what the meaning of the Second Amendment was in 1791. The Second Amendment’s modern consequences are unambiguous, forcing Americans to live like Sisyphus, pushing past each mass shooting only to be felled again. To stop this cycle of bloodshed and save the approximately 12 thousand Americans killed every year by gun homicide, we must alter the Second Amendment and remove guns from our communities.
Three weeks ago, 59 people were slaughtered in Las Vegas. Our country mourned, as we did after mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., Sandy Hook, Charleston, S.C., Orlando, Virginia Tech and San Bernardino, Calif. Like every previous mass shooting in the last decade, the horror of the Las Vegas shooting sparked discussions across the country about how it could have been prevented. The usual calls for expanded background checks and better mental health services rang out. News channels flashed statistics that we have all seen before. We know mass shootings are practically a daily occurrence, according to Gun Violence Archive, and that other developed countries with stricter gun control have much lower rates of gun-related deaths.
Now, three weeks later, politicians, news channels and the public have moved past the hundreds of lives irrevocably altered during one night in Las Vegas. So long as Republicans remain content to trade American lives for enormous, gun-lobby campaign contributions, and so long as the average American manages to endure the carnage, we can anticipate another mass shooting in the national news within six months. And most gun-related deaths don’t even make national news; on average, approximately 90 Americans die daily from gun use, and guns are the third leading cause of death for American children. Meaningful gun control will not be passed and justice will not be served until Americans of all political leanings realize that the Bill of Rights is not sacred and the Second Amendment is not worth protecting.
Furthermore, gun rights are not and never have been equal rights in this country. Two-thirds of male homicide victims are black. Last year, Philando Castile, a black man, was killed during a routine traffic stop for legally carrying a gun. Cops blame their own fear of guns when explaining why they have killed young, unarmed black men, ignoring those men’s constitutional right to possess one. Yet neo-Nazis and counter-protesters alike paraded about with semi-automatic weapons in Charlottesville, Va., suppressing some other people’s speech through intimidation. The Second Amendment is exacerbating oppression rather than advancing freedom and security.
Even some arguments promoting gun control fall back on the narrative that the Second Amendment is fundamentally correct, both when it was drafted and today. Searching for a remedy to our gun violence epidemic within the 200-year-old Constitution is a hopeless pursuit because our problem is rooted in that same text. When people argue that the Framers never intended to allow public access to modern weaponry, since the rifles of the American Revolution took nearly two minutes to load, they accept that all Americans deserve access to deadly weaponry — just not too deadly. Similarly, the argument that gun ownership should be limited to members of “a well-regulated Militia,” as the Second Amendment states, ignores the real problem; militia membership would not prevent rogue shooters. Considering the growing ties between militias and white supremacists, restricting gun ownership to militia members might be more dangerous than our current situation. During the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., this August, a group of armed civilian militiamen claiming to be peacekeepers patrolled the streets, many of them toting semi-automatic weapons more dangerous than standard police weapons; such militarization can only lead to violence. The more we repeat those originalist arguments, the more we reinforce the right to bear arms as a sacrosanct freedom.
Only three countries in the world include the right to bear arms in their constitutions: the United States, Mexico and Guatemala. Yet, citizens of states with much stricter gun laws, including Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany, are neither repressed nor helpless without personal firearms. Instead, they enjoy much lower homicide rates. The right to bear arms is not a human right simply because it appears alongside human rights included under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights like freedom of speech, religion and assembly within the U.S. Bill of Rights.
James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights, failed to understand what basic human rights are; he owned numerous slaves, as did most of the founding fathers. Our constitution not only permitted slavery for almost a century but rewarded it. The Three-Fifths Compromise weighted federal representation in favor of slave-owning states.
The country the founding fathers created denied the majority of Americans the right to vote. The best parts of modern America have been forged since then. The U.S.’s development is a tale of tenacity defeating the failings of our original Constitution. To interpret the Constitution “originally” today is not merely idiocy; it endorses the sexism, racism and elitism of the Framers.
If Americans believe in the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the solution is clear: We must get rid of guns being used to intimidate, silence and murder Americans. All but select hunting rifles and shotguns should be banned, in defiance of the Second Amendment, which must be altered. No part of this solution is easy. Constitutional change will not be easily won, and removing the 300 million guns already in America will take time and money, but when the alternative is allowing the continued escalation of gun violence, the choice should be clear. By demanding a constitutional amendment to limit gun ownership, we can usher in a safer, fairer era of American history.
Charlotte Selton is a College sophomore from Sacramento, Calif.